When “Kill Bill: Volume 1” premiered in Australia, Quentin Tarantino dedicated the film to one of his favorite directors, Brian Trenchard-Smith, whose name may not register if you’re not already a fan of schlock classics like 1975’s “The Man From Hong Kong” (the first Australian martial-arts film!) and 1983’s “BMX Bandits” (starring a young Nicole Kidman!). Featured prominently in Mark Hartley’s irreverently entertaining new documentary “Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!”, the English-born B-moviemaker was a key figure during the ’70s and ’80s Australian boom of exploitation films (“Mad Max,” anyone?) that rose after the Aussie censorship regime suddenly became more progressive. Since that crazy time when the limits were being pushed by such bold visionaries, Trenchard-Smith has made nearly 40 features, and as the lovingly curated clips in “Not Quite Hollywood” show, every last one is a scandalous romp. Just before going off to shoot his next picture, Trenchard-Smith spoke with me by phone about what puts asses in seats, directing sequels to other people’s films and Nicole Kidman’s former nicknames.
Could this boom of so-called “Ozploitation” films have happened today, or was that just a reactionary product of its time, with the introduction of the R-certificate?
I think it was a wonderful confluence of events in the entertainment universe, let’s say. Certainly, there was the relaxation of censorship restrictions and the joyous embracing of forbidden fruit that resulted at that time. Then there was a whole generation of Australians who — since the end of World War II, when foreign interest basically killed the indigenous film industry — had grown up that said, “Why don’t we have a film industry?” So that was coming to a boil as a sociopolitical movement: “We want to make our own films.” [All this] allowed us to catch up with the rest of the world to a degree, and you had the basic Australian adventurous spirit. We’re not going to totally obey the customs and formulas of established genres. We’re going to put our own antipodean twist to them.
Could it happen again today? I don’t know. It was a chemical mixture that came together right and produced an explosion of creativity, albeit in genres of cinema that didn’t get much respect. But people across the world, when they started to see these films, thought: “Woo! This is not your basic Hollywood cookie-cutter version of this or that genre. This has got a really interesting new flavor to it.” That was the gift, let’s say, the Ozploitation movement — Quentin’s term — gave to the Australian film industry renaissance.
What puts more asses in seats: sex, comedy, violence, or something else entirely?
You mean like animal husbandry? Maybe that’s the next taboo, “Brüno” meets “Doctor Dolittle.” [laughs] The combination of sex and violence has always been a potent one at the box office. It’s a delicate mixture — you don’t want to alienate your female audience by being excessively exploitative in the sex scenes, or so revolting in the violent scenes that it’s only a film for men. Comedy doesn’t travel internationally nearly as well as action. When I went independent from television towards the end of ’72, I made my first film, “The Stuntmen,” and I guess that points you in the direction of my area of interest. [laughs] I had determined that action was the universal currency of the movie market. A good punch-up plays just as well in Iceland as it does in Memphis.
To me, that was one way of getting a low-budget Australian film seen across the world. Give them acts of derring-do, laughs and gasps, amazing stunts, riveting action/violence, and as a result, my “Man from Hong Kong” in 1975 became the all-time box office champion of Pakistan, outgrossing the previous titleholders: “Cleopatra,” “Where Eagles Dare,” and I think “The Guns of Navarone.” That was indicative of the correctness of my philosophy at the time. Australia, [people] think it’s somewhere left of Austria or something. No one can understand the way we speak, the interesting way we treat vowels. And we certainly don’t have any stars to offer, so we better offer them something that they will always like, and that’s heavy duty action.
On your blog recently, you mentioned you found Nicole Kidman overdubbed from a French language print of “BMX Bandits.” Where did you find that, and do you have any anecdotes about your time with Kidman?
I could write a book, but I perhaps shouldn’t. Firstly, I do troll the Internet, and often find whole sequences [from my films]. “BMX Bandits” was posted online in 12 different parts before the latest DVD version came out. I found an extract from what was obviously a French print or DVD. I thought that was interesting to look at the flavor of that dialogue scene, her introductory scene in the film, to see what it looked like in French. That made me think of whether someone who did her voice became a beneficiary of her ongoing career. It’s nice when that happens.
As far as Nicole is concerned, I think the Sydney Telegraph has a photograph of the two of us together, and she’s giving me a kiss on the cheek. Without that picture, there’s no point in mentioning the story, but I predicted [during] that interview with that journalist that she would be a star. She had just turned 16 — she was 15 when we shot the film — and I said that in every decade or so in life, she would be playing significant roles, and would probably end up in her 80s as a Katharine Hepburn-like, feisty grandmother. I still believe that is true. She had this innate grasp of interpreting the text in an interesting way, being natural but understanding the reasons of the line.